Communion Of Dreams

The Website at the End of the Universe
August 31, 2007, 11:19 am
Filed under: Feedback, Promotion, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Just a quick note . . .

I noticed in my stats (now over 4,500 downloads of the novel) that evidently there had been a link to Communion of Dreams from a SF discussion site called The Website at the End of the Universe. Someone there had some high praise for the book, said it was in the same league as some of the recent biggies in Science Fiction – quite a compliment! I thought if anyone who read this blog wanted to comment on Communion, they could do so in this thread.

Jim Downey

“Titan’s Mistress”

In a post-apocalyptic world a cult of religious cyber-zombies prepare to release a hideous new engineered plague on mankind. On Saturn’s moon Titan, an aging space prospector discovers an ancient alien artifact. It will take the psycho-sexual skills of one lone young woman to unlock the secrets of the device and save mankind – but can she do it, before the aliens return?

Find out with the new Science Fiction special effects extravaganza Titan’s Mistress! Rated PG-13 for violence and language, some nudity.

(Based on the acclaimed novel Communion of Dreams)


OK, so here’s the deal. Someone read Communion this spring and *really* liked it. Said person thought that it was a very visual book, and would be perfectly suited to a film adaptation.

That’s all well and good. I’ve heard that from several people.

But this person has some connections into Hollywood.


Nothing certain, this person says (and I have reason to trust him). But the novel has been passed on to some people who will at least take a look at it. A serious look. And they’re the sorts who can get things accomplished.

What a weird idea, that the novel could first be sold as a movie. Then it wouldn’t be too hard to do the conventional publishing thing as well.

This is all speculative, of course. And I’ve known about this for a while. But after the last couple of posts being about personal stuff unrelated to the book, I thought I’d mention this.

Could be interesting. Granted, once given the Hollywood treatment, Communion would probably wind up looking like I described above, but still.

So, who would you see in what roles? Any suggestions?

Jim Downey

Daring to think.
August 28, 2007, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Failure, General Musings, Health, Hospice, Publishing, Religion, Sleep, Writing stuff

After she finished doing the nursing assessment of my MIL, I escorted ‘Missy’ from the Hospice agency out to her car. We paused just outside the back door, and she looked at me. “You guys are really doing a great job as care-givers.”

She probably tells that to all the people they work with. It’s likely in the manual.

But you know, it was still good to hear.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Every one of family and friends we’ve told have been very supportive. “Glad you’re getting some help.” “About time you were able to find a good Hospice.” “Good that you can have some support.” “Maybe now you can get some regular assistance, even some more respite care in each week.”

But you know, it somehow feels like failure. Like we’re giving up, giving in, saying “we can’t handle this any more.”

I always knew this time would come. Just as I know that someday my MIL will die. Well, part of me knew these things. Part of me didn’t. It’ll take some time for the emotional reality to catch up with the intellectual.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I found myself while on my morning walk considering what it will be like. To be able to go visit friends without having to coordinate family coming in to stay with my MIL. To not have to listen to a baby monitor 24 hours a day. To get some real sleep night after night after night. Daring to think that I might once again have a life of my own.

Really, that’s how it is. You develop such tunnel vision – everything has to be considered in terms of one objective: being a care provider. Yes, you take breaks as you can, you try and get some exercise, some sleep, eat right. Maybe even do some writing or conservation work. But all of that is secondary. Distantly secondary. Because you have to be there for the person you are caring for. It is a sacred trust, perhaps the only thing I truly consider to be sacred.

But now I start to consider What Comes After.

And it frightens me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Over 4,300 people have downloaded my novel. That’s an average of 600 people a month. Pretty good for what is basically word-of-mouth. I have a lot of work ahead of me to turn this into landing an agent, getting a publishing contract. If not for this book, then for the next one, on the basis that I have at least that much name recognition, that much of an ‘audience’.

I have the prequel to write. There’s a couple chapters already done that will need to be revised. And outlines for the rest of the book to be reworked.

I have at least two patentable ideas – one firearms related, one a consumer electronics item – that I need to pursue, see what I can do to either formally file a patent, or convince the appropriate large corporation to buy the idea from me with something less formal.

I need to earn some money, pay off debt.

I need to lose a bunch of weight, get back into something resembling decent shape.

And I’m frightened. For the last four years, none of these goals has really been paramount. So it has been easy to not succeed at them, and not take it as a personal failure. Soon, I will no longer have that excuse.

Can I succeed? Can I accomplish something lasting with my life?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

A friend sent me the “Quotes of the Day” this morning. It contained one of my long-time favorites:

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
— Thomas A. Edison

Certainly true. One only has to look around at the world to see that. So very few people are willing and able to actually think for themselves. Oh, they may believe this or that, and call it thinking. But to actually stop, and consider, and understand? That is a rare thing.

I have been chronically tired for years now. And my ability to think clearly, or for any length of time, has been correspondingly diminished. I can point to this or that instance recently when I was able to think and work for short periods, once I had a bit more sleep and time to decompress. But it is a fragile thing. And I worry that perhaps it has slipped away. . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Another try at Hospice.
August 27, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Government, Health, Hospice, Sleep, Society

I’m tired.  No, make that I’m weary – not just from lack of sleep, but that deep weariness of being on a long campaign of any sort, in this case three & a half years as a full time care-giver.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about our previous experience with Hospice for my mother-in-law (MIL).  Well, as reflected in that post, we’d seen a downturn in her condition, notably the tendency to sleep a lot more.  Couple that with increasing comments from her following naps that she had been with her parents (who have been dead for decades) and that they “wanted her to come home”, and we sensed that perhaps she was entering into the end of life.  We contacted her doctor, discussed the matter with him last week.  He agreed with us, prescribed Hospice once again.

This morning we had a visit from the case manager (a nice woman named Jann) from a different health organization than the one we used previously.  We went over my MIL’s condition, expressed our concerns about what our experience had been last year, discussed options.  According to her, my MIL fits well into the guidelines for Hospice admittance under the ‘debility’ criteria, and there’s little chance that she would ‘graduate’ from Hospice care under those criteria.

So, we’re giving this another try.  My wife and I are good care-givers, and have done this job well for these past years.  But now having the resources of Hospice available is a comfort, so long as I feel that I can trust it.  Knowing that we have someone to call who can advise and assist as needed comes as something of a relief, and I find myself a little overwhelmed.

And for some odd reason, more weary than when I got up from being on call this morning.  Tension-release, I suspect.

Jim Downey

A short history of political theology.
August 25, 2007, 10:32 am
Filed under: General Musings, Government, NYT, Politics, Predictions, Religion, Society, Violence, Writing stuff

Last weekend a friend sent me a link to a long piece in the New York Times titled “The Politics of God“, written by Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla. It was a difficult week here for me, so I didn’t get around to reading the full article until this morning. I recommend you do so at your first opportunity, since the meat of the thing will help you to understand a fundamental threat that we face…it’s just not the fundamental threat that the author of the piece talks about.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main thrust of the author’s argument is framed in terms of the West’s relations with Islam. This topic tends to dominate the news and what passes for foreign affairs these days, so that in itself is to be expected – it’s how you get published. And he has some valuable perspective to offer on the subject. But it is in his outline of the history of political theology in the West that the real value (and the more important threat) is contained.

In a few quick paragraphs Lilla sets out the basic paradigm of how politics and religion were intertwined in European history, how that lead to the Wars of Religion, then the political theories of Thomas Hobbes and on into the Enlightenment. One nice passage from this:

Fresh from the Wars of Religion, Hobbes’s readers knew all about fear. Their lives had become, as he put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And when he announced that a new political philosophy could release them from fear, they listened. Hobbes planted a seed, a thought that it might be possible to build legitimate political institutions without grounding them on divine revelation. He knew it was impossible to refute belief in divine revelation; the most one can hope to do is cast suspicion on prophets claiming to speak about politics in God’s name. The new political thinking would no longer concern itself with God’s politics; it would concentrate on men as believers in God and try to keep them from harming one another. It would set its sights lower than Christian political theology had, but secure what mattered most, which was peace.

Lilla calls this “the Great Separation”. Another relevant bit:

Though there was great reluctance to adopt Hobbes’s most radical views on religion, in the English-speaking world the intellectual principles of the Great Separation began to take hold in the 18th century. Debate would continue over where exactly to place the line between religious and political institutions, but arguments about the legitimacy of theocracy petered out in all but the most forsaken corners of the public square. There was no longer serious controversy about the relation between the political order and the divine nexus; it ceased to be a question. No one in modern Britain or the United States argued for a bicameral legislature on the basis of divine revelation.

OK, that passage about theocracy is where Lilla hangs his argument about the differences between the West and Islam. But it is precisely where I see the real threat: that within our own country there has been a growing movement to once again merge belief with political power. It carries more subtle names now, and is moving slowly, ever so slowly, so as not to alarm the bulk of the populace, but “arguments about the legitimacy of theocracy” are no longer confined to “all but the most forsaken corners of the public square.”

I think Lilla knows this, and it is implicit in his argument, however it may be positioned towards Islam. After tracing how a renewed liberal theology developed in Germany in the 19th century, and lead directly to the horrors of Nazism, the central threat of his piece is set forth:

All of which served to confirm Hobbes’s iron law: Messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics. The idea of redemption is among the most powerful forces shaping human existence in all those societies touched by the biblical tradition. It has inspired people to endure suffering, overcome suffering and inflict suffering on others. It has offered hope and inspiration in times of darkness; it has also added to the darkness by arousing unrealistic expectations and justifying those who spill blood to satisfy them. All the biblical religions cultivate the idea of redemption, and all fear its power to inflame minds and deafen them to the voice of reason. In the writings of these Weimar figures, we encounter what those orthodox traditions always dreaded: the translation of religious notions of apocalypse and redemption into a justification of political messianism, now under frightening modern conditions. It was as if nothing had changed since the 17th century, when Thomas Hobbes first sat down to write his “Leviathan.”

The revival of political theology in the modern West is a humbling story. It reminds us that this way of thinking is not the preserve of any one culture or religion, nor does it belong solely to the past. It is an age-old habit of mind that can be reacquired by anyone who begins looking to the divine nexus of God, man and world to reveal the legitimate political order. This story also reminds us how political theology can be adapted to circumstances and reassert itself, even in the face of seemingly irresistible forces like modernization, secularization and democratization. Rousseau was on to something: we seem to be theotropic creatures, yearning to connect our mundane lives, in some way, to the beyond. That urge can be suppressed, new habits learned, but the challenge of political theology will never fully disappear so long as the urge to connect survives.

So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing historically inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment.

A grand experiment, and the basis for our Republic. But those who wish to turn this into a “Christian Nation” seek to undo it all, to plunge back into the messianic madness of a unified polity and church. They may not admit it, except amongst their fellows. And their followers probably do not fully understand the risk. But it is there, a yawning chasm in the darkness, into which we will fall if we turn from the light of reason.

[Communion of Dreams Spoiler warning.]

That threat, that horror, of course, lies at the very heart of Communion. It is the motivation of the Edenists, and it is reflected in the metaphor of the alien artifact as an object which is impossible to document scientifically yet is individually experienced and transforms understanding when encountered.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

“World faces threats of new infectious diseases: WHO”

GENEVA (AFP) – The World Health Organisation on Thursday warned that a new deadly infectious disease like AIDS or Ebola is bound to appear in the 21st century, in a report urging more global solidarity to tackle an expanding array of health threats.

“It would be extremely naive and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola, another SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), sooner or later,” the 2007 World Health Report said.

It’s news like this, resulting from extensive scientific research into pandemics and potential threats from the development of infectious diseases thanks to climate change and further penetration of population into heretofore ‘remote’ areas, which lead me to use a pandemic flu as the basis for the history of Communion of Dreams.  And I first started thinking about this about 10 years ago.  In other words, nothing’s changed – but the science is consistent, and we’re likely overdue for a major global pandemic.

Comforting thought, isn’t it?

Jim Downey

It only took 20 minutes.
August 23, 2007, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Failure, Firefly, Guns, Joss Whedon, movies, Science Fiction, Serenity, Space, tech

I can only assume that it is a healthy respect for my martial arts abilities and proficiency with firearms that stopped my friends from kidnapping me and forcing me to watch the first episode of Firefly.  That is the only possible excuse I will allow.

Yeah, I finally started watching the series.  The first disc eventually found its way to the top of my Netflix queue and arrived yesterday.  But as we had something else on tap, we didn’t get to it until tonight.  So, we watched what Joss Whedon intended to be the pilot, the 90-minute piece titled (somewhat confusingly, since there’s also the feature film of the same name) Serenity.

It took only 20 minutes. No, it didn’t take 20 minutes to ‘get into’ it.  That happened at about 20 seconds.  It only took twenty minutes for me to start mentally kicking myself for not having gotten around to seeing the damned show before.  And that was just because it took that long until I managed to disengage my complete focus on the show long enough to consider the matter.  At 26 minutes I turned to my wife and said “OK, I’ll order our copy of the series tonight.”

I won’t belabor the point. There are countless blog posts and websites praising the series.  I’ll just say two things: one, this is what science fiction television should be; two, “I’m sorry” to all my friends for being such a stubborn bastard and waiting so long to heed your advice – rest assured that I have now seen the error of my ways, and I only hope that I don’t get hit by a truck or something before I’m able to finish seeing the whole thing at least once.

Jim Downey

Learning curve.

As I’ve said before, I’m a late-adopter of tech. I’m probably the last person in the US under the age of fifty and with an IQ above room temp who has made the transition over to Firefox.

Oh, it’s not as bad as it sounds – I’ve been running Mozilla for several years, and Netscape in one variety or another before that, all the way back to when I first got online in about ’93. But with the additional options available in Firefox2, it made sense to make the jump. So, with my good lady wife’s help (she’s the resident geek, not me) I switched yesterday, and then spent much of the rest of the day enjoying the much improved surfing experience, tweaking the set-up, learning the little quirks of the new software.

And also teaching it my own preferences and habits. This was the bit that I found amusing – that in one sense, I’m teaching Seth’s great-whatever-grandpappy his ABCs. Oh, we’re about 30 iterations of Moore’s Law away from the S-Series A.I. I have in Communion of Dreams, and a couple of computer ‘generations’ (if you consider that we’re currently in the fourth generation, that quantum computing will be the fifth, with my Tholin gel tech following that.) But it really does feel like something akin to a baby expert system I’m dealing with here, as we learn from one another.

I still don’t expect that we’ll experience a true Singularity such as Kurzweil and others have predicted, and the novel is in large part an exploration of why that is. But it is certainly the case that we’re moving towards a major threshold of technological change at an ever-increasing rate. Even late-adopters like me.

Jim Downey

The first Habanero.
August 22, 2007, 10:24 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Gardening, Habanero, Health

I like to garden. Always have. Since my senior year in college, I’ve almost always had at least a small vegetable garden. This year I kept my garden intentionally small, due to the increasing time constraints of being a full-time care giver. I didn’t want to have to be dealing with 40 or 50 pounds of ripe tomatoes a day for weeks on end, like I did a couple of years ago when I planted about three dozen different tomato plants, and they all bore very heavily. This year it was only 10 plants, and as a result I’ve only canned and sauced a couple of afternoons. Surprisingly, the deer this year have decided that they too like my tomato plants, and have been ‘helping’ me by keeping them trimmed back so that less fruit grows.

Six or seven years ago, I got bit by the “chilehead” bug – I started liking hotter and hotter spices, moving up the Scoville scale from Jalapenos to Serranos to eventually commercially available Habanero peppers. Over time I started reading about hot peppers, trying sauces, eventually even growing my own peppers. For the last several years I’ve been growing Habaneros, getting seedlings from local nurseries without much choice in terms of the varietal. I’ve been making my own sauces, but also simply dry the peppers and grind them up, use the powder like most people use black pepper. That’s fairly hard core.

But this year . . . this year, I wanted to up the ante a bit. So I ordered some of these:

All photos Copyright © Cross Country Nurseries
DEVIL’S TONGUE – extremely hot; Habanero Type; 2 to 3 inches long by 1 to 1.5 inches wide; matures from green to golden yellow; pendant pods; green leaves; 30 to 36 inches tall; Late Season; this pepper is outrageously hot!;C.chinense.

and some of these:

All photos Copyright © Cross Country Nurseries
HABANERO-RED SAVINA ™ – extremely hot; Habanero Type; 1.5 to 2.5 inches long by 1 to 1.5 inches wide; medium thick flesh; matures from green to red; pendant pods; green leaves; 24 to 30 inches tall; Late Season; in the Guinness Book as the hottestchile known. **Cross Country Nurseries is a licensed grower of the Red Savina ™ Habanero (PVP 9200255). Transplants are provided for the home gardener. Seeds from these peppers can not be legally saved to sell to others. You must plan to use these peppers for your own use.;C.chinense.

Now, last night the damned deer munched over the Devil’s Tongue (WTF? I thought deer would stay away from hot peppers??), so I may or may not get any peppers off of those. But a couple of weeks ago I put up some additional fencing around the RedSavinas, when one of the plants showed some early signs of someone feeding on them (I’d figured some kind of groundhog or something). And this morning when I was picking tomatoes I noted a nice little orange ball in the midst of one of the plants. Investigating, I saw that this one pepper had started to ripen, but had also been sampled by a bird (birds don’t react to the capsaicin in the peppers). So I nabbed it, brought it in.

This pepper wasn’t fully matured – they become deep red as noted in the description above – and so hadn’t fully developed the heat it will have. Still, I cut it open, removed the nibbled bits and the seeds, and set it aside to dry. Then, in what is something of a normal test for me, I touched the edge of the knife with the pepper juice to the tip of my tongue. There was the briefest flash of heat, and then my tongue simply went numb. And it stayed numb for about 20 minutes, the rest of my mouth echoing that wonderful Habanero burn.

Yeah, baby, this is gonna be good!

Jim Downey

Slow-moving plague.
August 21, 2007, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Flu, Health, Pandemic, Plague, Science, Science Fiction, Society

Research has established one component of the world-wide epidemic of obesity: a virus.

A common virus that causes colds can be a factor in obesity, according to a study released Monday offering further evidence that a weight problem may be contagious.

The adenovirus-36 (Ad 36) has already been implicated as the cause of weight gain in animals, but with this study researchers showed for the first time that it can also cause humans to pile on the pounds.

The findings could accelerate the development of a vaccine or an antiviral medication to help fight the battle of the bulge alongside diet and exercise.

It’s a slow-moving, slow-acting plague. This would go a long ways to explaining why obesity has become so wide-spread in the last few decades, and has been hinted at in previous studies. There are other factors, certainly, but establishing a tie to a viral component could be a huge factor in dealing with this problem more effectively.

I’m overweight by about 40 pounds. Partly this is a function of my lifestyle, with the lack of opportunity to be active and the additional stress of being a full-time care provider for someone with Alzheimer’s. I know that with a lot of effort in exercise and watching what I eat, I can shake off the excess pounds – I’ve done it a couple of times. But it is so much harder now than it was before, and my natural weight-point has changed from where it used to be a decade ago to where it is now. And this pattern is seen increasingly around the globe, where other factors at play in my life or in the typical American life can be eliminated.

In Communion I have a post-pandemic society, one which is recovering from a massive disruption caused by a flu virus which caused rapid death in a large percentage of the population. But the reality of what we’re dealing with might be even more insidious.

Jim Downey